Australia’s medical research sector is mourning one of its giants following the death of Basil Hetzel.
Dr Hetzel, who has died aged 94, won global recognition as a tireless public health researcher and campaigner.
In the 1960s he confirmed a link between iodine deficiency and brain damage in unborn children, as well its role in cretinism, characterised by a physical deformity such as goitre.
It resulted in an international campaign to have iodine added to food, particularly salt, to prevent the condition.
Through the creation of the International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders, Dr Hetzel campaigned in developing countries to increase the use of iodine.
“I’m very concerned about the position of the disadvantaged in our society and the need for urgent means to bridge the gap,” he said when asked to explain his motivation.
Bridging the gap brought him high honours including the Companion of the Order of Australia and Thailand’s most prestigious medical award from the country’s late king.
Iodine deficiency is no longer a serious problem in Australia because it is added to salt, bread and other foods.
Dr Hetzel started his career at the Royal Adelaide and Queen Elizabeth hospitals before making his discovery in Papua New Guinea.
He later served as South Australia’s Lieutenant Governor and was the Chancellor of the University of South Australia.
University of South Australia Vice Chancellor David Lloyd said Dr Hetzel was also dedicated to improving mental health and he was instrumental in the establishment of Lifeline.
“Basil was one of these researchers who made a huge difference not just to health in his local community but he actually made a difference to health globally,” he said.
“His work in linking iodine deficiency to cretinism really transformed the way we think about fortified foods whose research and work made a transformational difference to the lives of thousands.”
The spirit and approach of Dr Hetzel continues at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital where the research institute is named in his honour.
Source: ABC Online
Kobby Blay is the chief health editor at Ghanahealthnest.com. A professional practicing nurse with specialty in mental health and focus for health communications, public health, medical/documentary photography, ICT and systems perspective for health improvement.